Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Blogs Under Control
Under Control

March 26, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – We have all heard the adage, “the popular decision is not always the right decision, and the right decision is not always the popular decision.” I suggest that popular thinking is not always the right thinking and the right thinking is not always the most popular thinking. A recent conversation with a fire chief of a volunteer department brought back a memory of a conversation I had with my uncle more than 25 years ago: my uncle was a volunteer firefighter serving his town and even today I remember the sense of relief I felt after he explained that he did not don a mask, but he enjoyed operating the pump. Thank goodness, because my uncle had several risk factors for a heart attack, and if he donned a mask there is no doubt in my mind that I would be writing that he was a LODD.

March 26, 2013
By Les Karpluk

Topics

March 26, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – We have all heard the adage, “the popular decision is not always the right decision, and the right decision is not always the popular decision.” I suggest that popular thinking is not always the right thinking and the right thinking is not always the most popular thinking. A recent conversation with a fire chief of a volunteer department brought back a memory of a conversation I had with my uncle more than 25 years ago: my uncle was a volunteer firefighter serving his town and even today I remember the sense of relief I felt after he explained that he did not don a mask, but he enjoyed operating the pump. Thank goodness, because my uncle had several risk factors for a heart attack, and if he donned a mask there is no doubt in my mind that I would be writing that he was a LODD.

Recently, the U.S. Fire Administration identified that 41.5 per cent of line-of-duty deaths were caused by heart attacks. In Canada, there is one heart attack every seven minutes and one cardiac arrest every 12 minutes. Most of the deaths from heart attacks occur outside of a hospital and fewer than five per cent of those who suffer a cardiac arrest survive.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says that most cardiac arrests are witnessed by a family member, co-worker or friend, and performing CPR and using an AED before arrival of EMS can increase the chances of survival by up to 75 per cent. There are numerous other factors that impact survivability of cardiac arrest; this is far from my expertise, however as mentioned, heart attacks kill firefighters, and I think it’s time that courageous leaders stepped up to the plate to deal with this issue.

Imagine a small volunteer fire department with a faithful group of volunteers serving and protecting the community. Not unlike other volunteer departments across Canada, this department faces challenges recruiting and retaining its volunteers. However, it does have some faithful members who have been with the department for 25, 30 or 35-plus years, and these members still want to be active in fighting fire because they have a sense of honour in serving and protecting their community.

Advertisment

With nine in 10 Canadians having at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke, is it really fair to expect a long-serving member to conduct operational functions during emergency incidents? I would like to believe that, for the most part, these dedicated members are operating the pump or wearing the safety-officer helmet and not performing any of the grunt work.

In February, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Saskatoon and confirmed the commitment of $10 million to place AEDs in hockey arenas and community centers across Canada. Obviously there is a need for this life-saving device and without the support of the federal government, these life-saving device would not be in every Canadian hockey arena and community center simply. Every year, Canadians suffer cardiac arrest while participating in physical activity, and the need for public access to AEDs cannot be over emphasized; however, I wonder if it’s time to start compiling Canadian data on the heart attacks experienced by firefighters as a result of fighting fire?

Going against popular thinking requires courageous leadership and it’s time to sit down and implement policies stipulating that members over 60 years of age are not conducting active operational duties in career or volunteer departments (some provinces have mandatory retirement from suppression at age 60). The March 7 LODD of a 62-year-old fire cadet in League City, Tx., should motivate every volunteer department to move in this direction. I have to confess that I do not have all of the details of the cadet death in League City, Tx., but as a profession we must learn from these unfortunate incidents to ensure they never happen again.

Remember that courageous leaders make the tough decisions for the betterment of the department and for the safety of its members.

Until next time, lead from within and grow.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes.


Print this page

Related



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*